One thing I learned early in life is that it is a blessing to have good neighbors.  My childhood was spent in a suburb of Knoxville, Tennessee.  Known as “Fountain City,” it was annexed by the larger municipality during my early elementary school years. 

My family resided in a fairly stable neighborhood.  For the most part, there was not a lot of turnover.  Our house was located on the corner of Balsam Drive and Pine View.  Across the street from the side of our home lived a lady we called “Mrs. Smith.”    We knew that her first name was “Tennessee,” and that she had a twin sister, “Virginia,” who lived out of state.    The Bassetts lived across the street in front of our house.  My mom enjoyed visiting Mrs. Bassett – I think she saw her as a mother-figure.  She, too, lost her husband while we still lived in the area.

The Ogle family lived on the other side of Mrs. Smith.  Mr. and Mrs. Ogle had three children when they moved in; a fourth was added to their family about the same time my mom had my younger brother.  Between the Ogles and the Searles, ten children populated our corner of the neighborhood.  Two of Mrs. Smith’s grandchildren were also frequent members of our group.  Connie Ogle and I were not only the same age, we were best friends, and we still keep in touch to this day.

Although I don’t recall much of a relationship between Mrs. Smith and Mrs. Bassett, they were both a blessing to my mom.  They gave her advice, they loaned flour, sugar, or eggs when Mom ran out (which was reciprocated if they were the ones in need).   If Mom needed to take one of her children to the doctor, Mrs. Smith would sometimes babysit for the rest of us.  At one point, Mom had her try to teach me to knit; however, I liked to crochet much better, and so knitting went by the wayside.  Mrs. Bassett made wonderful dried apple stack cakes, using produce from her own trees; at Christmas, she would give one to our family.  

On the same side of the road as Mrs. Bassett, the next house after hers belonged to an elderly brother and sister, the Carters.  Neither of them had ever married.  Miss Carter, the older of the two, had gotten rather feeble.  Mr. Carter was losing his eyesight due to glaucoma.  He had to give up driving, which meant he walked to the grocery store.  When even that became difficult, he asked my parents if one of their children could walk there with him.  The task usually fell to me, since I was the oldest.  It wasn’t long before we ended up helping the Carters with household chores and meal preparation.  Our relationship with them taught me to be compassionate and to be aware of the needs of those around me.

My most recent help from a neighbor occurred last week.  I woke up one morning with chest pains.  It felt like someone put a band around my chest and kept tightening it.  I kept waiting for it to go away, but it wouldn’t let up.  I finally called my neighbor Nancy; she gave up the rest of her afternoon and evening to take me to the emergency room.  Thankfully, they could find nothing wrong with my heart, although I am scheduled to follow up with a cardiologist.  It is truly a comfort to have good neighbors!

Speaking of comfort – there are also comfort foods.  For me, soup definitely falls in that category.  Since January is National Soup Month, it seems fitting to furnish some recipes for it.

3-Bean and Ham Soup

2 carrots, peeled and diced

2 celery ribs, diced

1/4 cup diced onion (I used a sweet onion)

1 tablespoon olive oil

1-1/2 cups water

2 cups beef stock

2 or 3 bay leaves

2 tablespoons dried parsley flakes

1-1/2 teaspoons onion powder

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained

1 (16-ounce) can pinto beans, rinsed and drained

1 (15.5-ounce) can Great Northern beans, rinsed and drained

1-1/2 cups diced cooked ham

Cornbread (optional)

Heat olive oil in a large saucepan.  Add carrots, celery, and onion; sauté until celery and onion are almost tender, stirring often.

Add remaining ingredients to pan; bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 to 45 minutes.  Remove bay leaves before serving.  Serve with cornbread, if desired. Yield: 4 servings.

Southwestern Chicken Dumpling Soup

1 can (15 ounces) tomato sauce

1 can (14-1/2 ounces) diced tomatoes, Mexican Fiesta blend, undrained

1-3/4 cups water

1 teaspoon chili powder

3 cups diced cooked chicken (may use turkey)

1 can (16 ounces) red beans, rinsed and drained

1 can (16 ounces) black beans, rinsed and drained

1 can (15-1/4 ounces) whole kernel corn, drained

1-1/2 cups biscuit/baking mix

1/2 cup cornmeal

3/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese, divided

2/3 cup milk

In a Dutch oven, combine the first 5 ingredients; bring to a boil.  Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add beans and corn.  In a bowl, combine biscuit mix, cornmeal, and 1/2 cup cheese; stir in milk.  Drop by heaping tablespoonfuls onto the simmering soup.  Cover and cook for 12 to 15 minutes or until dumplings are firm.  Sprinkle with remaining cheese; cover and simmer 1 minute longer or until the cheese is melted.  Serve immediately.

Potato-Cheese Soup

3 or 4 medium potatoes, diced

1 small onion, finely chopped


3 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted

2 tablespoons fresh parsley, snipped (or 2 teaspoons, dried)

3/4 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons flour

Dash of pepper

1 cup Cheddar cheese, shredded

In a 2-quart saucepan, add potatoes and onion to 1 cup of salted, boiling water.  Cover and cook about 20 minutes or until potatoes are tender.  Mash potatoes slightly; do not drain.  Measure mixture and add enough milk to make 5 cups. 

Blend melted butter, flour, parsley, salt, and pepper.  Stir into potato mixture in saucepan; cook and stir until thickened and bubbly.  Add cheese.  Cook and stir until cheese is partially melted.  Serve immediately.

Garlic-and-Basil Tomato Soup

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup chopped sweet onion

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 (14.5-ounce) can Italian-style diced tomatoes, undrained

1-1/2 cups chicken broth, divided

1/2 teaspoon hot sauce

1/2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Pinch of ground red pepper

1-1/2 tablespoons minced fresh basil

Heat olive oil in a medium saucepan; add garlic and onion.  Sauté until onion is soft. 

Process garlic mixture, tomatoes, 3/4 cup chicken broth, and next 5 ingredients in a food processor or blender until smooth, scraping down sides.  (If you have an immersion blender, place ingredients in pan with garlic mixture and puree right in the pan!)  

Cook tomato mixture and remaining 3/4 cup broth in a medium saucepan over medium heat 5 minutes or until thoroughly heated.

Stir in basil; serve immediately.  Yield: 2 servings.